Open Letter to Arne Duncan

Dear Mr. Duncan,
I read somewhere that you want teachers to "rise to new levels" by using student achievement data in calculating salaries, and increasing competition and that you feel these strategies are not 'anti-teacher'. As an excellent teacher of 14 years and a mother of 2 very wonderful children, I absolutely disagree.

I ask you to look at these strategies and ask yourself how the strategies that you propose show respect towards teachers? How they show trust in us as professionals? Apply these so called 'reform' strategies to any other profession and you will clearly see the absurdity of them, yet for some reason when applied to educators it's okay. Why is that? Could you fathom rating doctors on the amount of obese patients they have?, or placing names of "least effective" doctors in the paper as some sort of public lynching? That would never happen, doctors have lawyers. Plus, teachers are not by nature political, we are mostly women, cannot afford a lawyer, and therefore the teacher bashing continues without much resistance.

It is true that in Finland only the top of the top graduates get to work with kids, yet, you failed to see the whole picture in this comparison. Once they are chosen to be teachers they are trusted to teach and left to teach. In other words, they are treated as professionals. In America, things are very, very different. To begin, administrators of education structures support programs like Teach for America which hire people who most often do not see teaching as a lifelong commitment or as a stepping stone to a 'higher calling'. The so-called "solutions" to fix education all come from non-educators who have never even been in a classroom, less taught in one and who come to education with preconceived notions about teachers, unions, about what teachers' roles should be and armed with oversimplified ideas of how children learn best.

As a parent and a teacher of 14 years I am more interested in quality of instruction than the quantity of facts my child can accumulate, yet there continues to be far too many standards in every grade ensuring that no subjects ever get the depth and time they needs to become meaningful to a child.

As a teacher I have personally experienced meaningful learning in my children when teaching using the arts, movements, experiments, singing, theatre. You experience first hand the validity and life changing qualities of this way of teaching. Yet, these ideas and concepts go in and out the ears of business reformers who would rather things be simpler, neater. Standardized tests and numbers makes sense to them, so they push and push with numbers. Never mind that the higher the stakes, the more teachers twists and squirm trying to juggle the craziness. The higher the stakes the more we need to narrow what we teach to ace the tests.

The solutions are out there and the only way to them will come by answering two questions. One, what ultimately is the purpose of education? Is it remembering facts? filling in bubbles? Or is it learning how to think and work with ideas. If it's how to work with ideas, is a standardized test aimed at assessing that? Absolutely not. Two. How do children learn best?The corporate reformers fill their speeches with reminders of how they are 'doing this for the children'. If that were really so they would not be pushing for more test. If they cared about the children whey would look at how it is that children learn best. Creating a punitive-style system that punishes teachers for not getting enough facts into our children and then expecting these lessons to be life-changing and engaging is plain laughable; the two do not go together, sorry. Facts alone do not make for a memorable lesson but if my work and wage becomes based on facts, you bet teachers will be teaching to the test. Creating, engaging, discussion and exploring make for life-changing lessons but this country's obsession with numbers is slowly squeezing good learning and teaching out of the classroom.

I will continue to urge teachers and parents to advocate against this growing madness of corporate school reform and advocate for whole child reform.

1 comment:

  1. Very well spoken. (Or I guess I should say well written.) As a veteran teacher (34 years teaching art!) I'm appalled that suddenly I'm going to be evaluated based on student progress on standardized tests. Huh? I don't even HAVE (nor do I want) a standardized test in art. Personally, I think teachers are more well-trained now than ever in my years teaching, but society is very broken. Kids come to school without learning the values and behaviors at home that are essential to becoming a good learner in school. How can we expect them to show progress when they come to ous with so much baggage, so little support at home? I think I'll have to post about this all sometime soon.


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